It would be nice if society could order up frank, respectful and loving discussions in every home by fiat.
But often, that’s just not how life works.
That’s the flaw in Illinois’ Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which requires that doctors who intend to perform an abortion for a minor give at least 48 hours of notice to an adult family member. In too many homes, such a notification could be disastrous.
It’s time to repeal this law. An effort to do so got no further than approval by a state Senate committee two years ago, but a new effort is expected to be introduced in the Legislature this week. And this time around, this editorial page — along with many of the most respected medical groups in the country — hopes to see a bill land on the governor’s desk.
In homes with responsible parents who have been reliably managing health care for their children all along, girls are wise to have an open discussion before making such a stressful decision, one that will have a deep impact on their lives. And, to be sure, girls in a majority of cases do tell their parents about an unplanned pregnancy. Or they confided in another family member or trusted adult.
But in too many other homes, that’s just not safe or wise. Vulnerable girls, who typically have few resources, fear they’ll be tossed out in the street if they say they want to get an abortion. And their fears, counselors say, are not unwarranted.
Sometimes, as well, it is a family member who has sexually abused the girl. In these cases, obviously, the legal requirement of parental notification can be an insurmountable barrier.
Recognizing this problem, the current state law requiring parental notification includes an exception — girls can instead make their case to a judge. And most of the time the judge does, indeed, approve the abortion.
But while this requirement may sound reasonable in theory, it is often prohibitive in practice, and not just because it is asking an awful lot of a young girl to stand before a judge and discuss the most intimate details of her life.
For a girl in school, it’s hard to get to court during daytime hours to see a judge. If the girl misses school to go to court, the school notifies her parents. The parents find out anyway, whether or not this is in the girl’s best interest or safe.
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Transportation is a further practical complication. Public transit might not be available, but if the girl calls an Uber, the charge is likely to show up on her parents’ credit card. In a small town, she might be spotted at the courthouse, and word could get back to her parents.
The American Civil Liberties Union operates a hotline for girls in this predicament, but even that is complicated. Her parents might be monitoring her cellphone. And she would have to call at a time when she is not in school and her parents aren’t around.
For all these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Adolescent Medicine and the American Public Health Association oppose the parental notification law, which went into effect in 2013.
This is a complicated issue. Most states require some kind of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, and some states require parental consent. Parents naturally want to know about something that affects their child so significantly.
But Illinois law already allows pregnant women or girls — not their parents — to decide whether to keep a baby or put it up for adoption. It is their decision alone, as well, whether to have certain doctor-recommended medical tests or a cesarean section.
Only when a girl decides to end her pregnancy does the government force her to involve her family.
If only every parent were responsible, caring and compassionate. We would not be writing this editorial. But we know better, as do you.
We urge you to call on the Illinois Legislature to repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act.
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